You can take proactive steps to reduce your risk of skin cancer. Although you can’t modify some of your risks (like your skin color), you can modify other risks by avoiding or limiting your exposure to them. Please see Basal Cell Carcinoma Risk Factors and Squamous Cell Carcinoma Risk Factors for a discussion of the specific risks for each type of skin cancer.
The vast majority of the 5 million-plus skin cancer cases in the United States are caused by ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. Practicing sun safety and avoiding indoor tanning are key steps to reducing the number of cases of skin cancer. We can group tactics to assure sun safety into three types of strategies: practice sun sense, use sunscreens effectively and often; and put on some sun wear. Details about these strategies/tactics are described below.
Avoid the midday sun
Since the sun’s UV rays are strongest between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, it’s best to limit your sun exposure during those hours.
Seek shade when appropriate
When outside, seek shade to limit your exposure to the sun.
Don’t try to get tan
A tan means damage has already
occurred. See Fact vs Fiction below.
Tips for getting the most benefit from sunscreens:
Types of Sunscreens
UV Light They Protect Against
|Physical Blockers (aka inorganic/mineral sunscreens)||
||Both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum)|
(aka organic sunscreens)
||Depends: UVA, UVB, or both (broad spectrum)|
Wear broad-brimmed hats
Choose hats with broad brims (at least three inches all around) if possible, since they cover more of your face/neck than baseball caps. If you wear a baseball cap, be sure to put sunscreen on your ears and neck.
Cover up with clothing
Darker colored clothing is more protective than lighter colored, and dry clothing is more protective than wet clothing. And clothing that has a high Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is best. See the Science Sidebar (How do we measure sun protective qualities?) for detail.
Wear UV-blocking sunglasses
The bigger the sunglasses, the better the eye protection. Ideally the sunglasses should be labeled “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV requirements,” meaning that they block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. UV light can damage your eye and lead to ocular melanoma. In addition, it can contribute to the formation of cataracts, which can affect your vision over time.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is energy produced by the sun and by artificial sources such as tanning beds. Ultraviolet means light that is not in the visible spectrum that we normally see. Think “beyond” (ultra) violet light, which has the shortest wavelength of visible light. There are three types of UV radiation that we are concerned with:
UVC is the most dangerous type of UV radiation. Fortunately, most of the sun’s UVC is absorbed by the atmosphere and doesn’t reach the earth’s surface. However, UVC is emitted during arc welding, along with other types of UV radiation. Therefore, welders need to protect themselves with face shields, protective clothing, and eye protection.
UVB is the second most potent type of UV radiation. It penetrates the top layer of the skin and is the primary cause of sunburns (remember “B” for burns) and delayed tanning. UVB is the main cause of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma as well as melanoma.
UVA is the least potent type of UV radiation but most abundant, constituting 95% of the UV light that reaches us. It causes the immediate tanning effect. Because it penetrates deeply, it can contribute to skin aging, leathering, and wrinkling (think “A” for aging). UVA penetrates clouds and car windows. It makes UVB-induced damage worse and increases your risk for developing skin cancers.
Your level of UV exposure is increased by certain factors: